Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Summer Of Silver Pen Surprises.

A Summer Of Silver Pen Surprises.

It’s been a bit since I have posted any manner or regular writing or musings of any kind. That isn’t an excuse or validation it is simply the truth. My summer has been an awkward one, it has brought with it a mixture of twists and turns that are in short best surmised by saying they have kept everything shifting around me.

We started my children’s summer vacation off by taking them to a local historical park complete with a civil war museum and still standing landmarks. It was a symmetry thing; the previous summer we ended by taking a family picnic to the same location and thought it felt fitting to begin this one by doing the same. Everyone had fun and it was the least we could afford to do at the time – a full blown vacation of any kind was simply impossible.

Later in the summer we were able to make a short jaunt up to another local place of interest; the Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area. While there we toured the Nature Station seeing all manner of animals – a good number of which frequent our yard – in a natural and neutral way most people rarely do. After which we enjoyed a pleasant picnic at Hematite Lake where I literally stumbled on a beautiful silver Cross ink pen that still functioned (insert irony here). Then we followed it all up with a family hike around the perimeter of Hematite Lake, a trail some 2 ¼ to 2 ½ miles long.

By summer’s end we pulled together two final fun events to wrap things up. The first was a day at a nearby water park organized for families with children suffering from emotional or mental disabilities. We weren’t able to stay nearly as long as the kids might have liked but it was a little overwhelming. The last hurrah of summer was a huge surprise for my children. We woke them up early one morning, loaded up in our van and drove to a destination we didn’t tell them anything about. It turned out to be the St. Louis Zoo.

All the fun trips and events aside – which was infinitely more than we have been able to do for them virtually ever – there were other projects and things to tackle. There were repairs to be made on our van, things around the house to be replaced, fixed etc. We’ve been rather busy but it hasn’t been easy or all pleasant to be fair.

We lost my Grandfather back in June. It’s something I have talked about already and affected me greatly. I also finally relented from my months of hoping and trying to remain patient about seeing a doctor about my right wrist/hand. The surgery done last November hadn’t seemed to be showing the results we expected and unfortunately the doctor who had preformed the procedure had since moved on.

What I hadn’t been prepared for was a chain of events that would set off. First I was sent to an expert to evaluate my condition. He reluctantly confided in me that in his professional opinion he wasn’t sure there would be much he could do to help me as it looked like a circulatory issue. So, I was sent for some tests. During the tests there was some obvious difference between my arms but the results declared everything was still within normal ranges.

That returned me to square one with no real clue where to go next. At that point my Wife and I went back to my family doctor to try and figure out what we could do. Upon further observation he concluded that there must be something Neurological in nature that he would like me to bring up with my Neurologist. His concern was readily apparent when he could see better what I had been describing. My hand has been losing all color and taking on a blue-grey or purplish hue, even turning cold or seemingly absent a pulse. I can’t really feel anything with it and there is an issue of pain as well. To put it bluntly; I have almost no real use of my right arm.

My doctor finally asked a question that hadn’t quite occurred to me. He asked how far up the numbness went. Now, my immediate answer was that it was isolated to my hand and maybe partially up my forearm. But once he started pinching his way gradually along we realized I wasn’t feeling it even when he reached my inner arm stopping just at my arm pit.

I couldn’t feel it. My wife emphasized just how hard he was actually pinching me – hard enough to discolor the skin and leave red marks like when pinched by anyone who means it. His assessment was an obvious one; either I was far tougher than I let on or something serious is going on. And, if it was the later then there was a general fear that my entire arm might deteriorate further without action being taken.

I guess now all I can do is place my faith in my Neurologist being able to piece this puzzle together. Because, currently I struggle to write even a few sentences on paper or do more than brush my teeth or tie my shoes. Typing isn’t as bad but only in small bursts and only if I keep an eye on where my hands are.

This made it really awkward when I started getting calls to come help get my Father up out of the floor. It took some clever thinking I must admit, being effectively one handed. You see, he has been suffering from a heart condition most of his life and recently discovered he has been having seizures as well. Now, much like me he doesn’t drive and is rarely left alone. He’s had some close calls that have scared us all considerably of late but for him there is a ray of hope. They want to implant a device in his chest to help him regulate signals sent to his brain to help stop his seizures. We know it works because my older sister has one and has for some time. The issue; he already has a device that monitors and records his heart in place where they would like to stick the other. Further complicating matters is the fact that the doctor who installed the ‘loop recorder’ had recently passed away. That leaves them in limbo about getting permission to remove one in order to implant the other.

I guess it is true what they say; some people really do have all the luck.

But mark my words: I am not making excuses. This isn’t the end of my writing by any means. It is like I tell my own children; make solutions instead of excuses. That is precisely what I aim to do. With a little luck and some stubborn determination perhaps things will improve.

I hope you’ll bear with me in the mean time and if you’ve enjoyed any of my stories thus far then all I can say is that I’ll try to keep raising the bar from here on out.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Wealth of Wisdom Not Found in Words.

Originally I hadn't intended to share this in this way. However, after it was read at the funeral for my Grandfather it has occurred to me that I owed it to him to share it with those who weren't able to attend. As such, I offer it here in this format for anyone so interested:

The Wealth of Wisdom Not Found in Words.

If you will kindly bear with me, I’ve never been very skilled at speaking – I’m used to being the one writing the words instead of the one speaking them.

Fred Howard is my Grandfather. Over the course of his life he has worn many different hats; he has been a carpenter, a soldier, a father, a husband and a friend. But at the very core of his being he is best described – in my mind – as a noble man. To those who knew him, I think you can agree with me that he would never ask for such praise or speak as highly of himself. My Grandfather was a man of humility, of honor and honesty.

There is a phrase he once told me as a child that I have never forgotten. In so many ways, you could say it was the closest thing to his personal motto and trademark as anything ever could be. What he said was this; “If a job is worth doing, then it is worth doing right the first time.” It was more than just how he approached every task, be it crafting a cabinet to building a box or even designing a dresser. It is how he lived his life. It is evident in how he lived every day. So I can say with absolute certainty that he can hold his head high, because as I look back I have no doubt that he did the job right as we all should endeavor to.

Growing up I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. I relished any chance to see something he was working on, to ride with him on any errand and to learn anything he could tell me about. For years I longed for the day when I would be big enough to learn everything he knew about working with wood and how to build things.

Sadly, health and circumstances prevented anything of the sort from ever being possible. However, thanks to my Grandfather’s influence there were other more valuable lessons that he imparted to me. He did so without ever having to truly lecture or make speeches. He did so by being an example of discipline, dedication and decency. Thanks to my Grandfather I saw a consistent image of what a man should always strive to be. He was humble, honest and honorable; all the things that make good men great.

I know that in his passing many will lament his absence; they will remember him fondly and talk warmly of him. But what we should all take the time to realize is that he will never truly be gone. He lives on in each of us, whether we realize it or not. Every time my little brother lifts a hammer to nail two boards together; it is with my Grandfather’s example behind him. When my Mother cares for someone who needs a hand she shows the same compassion and preservation of dignity that her Father has shown her. Anytime I encourage my own children to uphold their word and responsibilities I am passing on the same wisdom my Grandfather provided me.

My Grandfather wasn’t the most educated of men; he wasn’t rich or famous in most uses of the word. What he was, was a decent, honest and hard working man. He took care of his church, and led the singing there – not because he wanted to stand in the limelight or feel special – but because it was a job that needed doing and he could. To my knowledge, he never has been awarded any honors or acclaim. Even if he had been I doubt he would have ever made a fuss about the matter or wanted anyone else to. But if any man ever deserved to have their life honored and remembered it is my Grandfather. His legacy is a living one; of being an example others should strive to emulate.

In parting I would like to end with the words I wrote as a dedication from a story that was in part inspired by my memories of my Grandfather;

Dedicated to my beloved Grandfather; a more honest, honorable and simply strong character of a man I have never known. May we all be blessed to have such a handy hammer in our lives to help build us into a better man or woman.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Litany of Life Lessons.

A Litany of Life Lessons.

Throughout the course of our lives we are granted any number of precious moments with which to treasure. Frozen little jewels that, much like seeds, imbed in us the cornerstones that will inevitably shape the foundation of what we will become. They can be as simple and innocuous as a phrase or as involved as a deep heartfelt discussion. Whatever form they take, we owe it to ourselves and those who made such an impact on us to reflect on them from time to time.

For me, I try to do so as often as I can. But try as you might there are those situations that prompt you to review the scope of influence that some important people have wielded on your life.

Right now, I find myself deep in thought about the effect my Grandfather has had over my life – and, by extension my own Mother as well. Perhaps it is only fitting with the impending holiday approaching. Truth be told; his rapidly declining health keeps my mind trained on the topic of his life.

For as long as I can recall my Grandfather has been an idealized hero to my eyes. In reality I am well aware that he is merely mortal and just as fallible as anyone else. However, even that logic seems faulty to me as an adult though. By my own reckoning he is the closest thing to everything a saint, a knight, even a kingly man should be.

I never was afforded the luxury of getting to know my Father’s father. Unfortunately, he passed away just shy of a year before I was born. That said the only knowledge I have of the man is from little anecdotes and insight others have offered me. In sharp contrast my Mother’s father was the only grandfather I have ever known.

As a young man I spent many weekends and holidays spending time at my Grandfather’s house. Around the age of 7 my family moved out of the city limits and into the county to put us just over 2 miles from my Grandfather if you go by road. Adventurous boys quickly discovered other avenues by way of woodland trails and the like to cut that distance over time. For us the whole experience of visiting my Grandfather was best described as something magical.

For quite some time we were limited from freely exploring all areas of the house – a decision I can respect in hindsight. Even so, with time our curiosity grew along with our trust and little by little we were allowed to sleep upstairs and investigate all manner of things. We rode to job sites with my Grandfather and watched as he put hammer and nail to use to make masterfully crafted things out of wood. We escorted him and his beloved German Shepherd Mack to the vet for shots. As both the Song Leader and Caretaker of our church we even joined him countless times and endeavored to aid him in his regular duties.

I have spoken before about being introduced to chestnuts thanks to the chestnut trees that grew on my Grandfather’s yard. I’ve even mentioned his dutiful service to his country when called during World War II. I may have even had a word or two to spare about his hard working nature and handicraft regarding building things from wood – especially his own home in point of fact. But there are a number of things I may never have taken the time to talk about.

In retrospect I don’t think I would have ever become a writer at all if not for my Grandfather. A single example is etched into my memory; an image of me setting cross-legged in his living room floor with paper and pencil. I was working on a story about a ‘white knight,’ all shining armor and pure hero. Now, my Grandfather isn’t the most educated man in the world but he is far from being anyone you might say is lacking in mental ability. He asked me a little about the project my attention was focused on, then with a smile and a nod encouraged me to keep up the good work.

That single passing instance was perhaps the first thing that provided me forward momentum to push myself. If he thought that what I was doing was good work then who was I to argue? It was his personal motto that if something was worth doing then it was worth doing right the first time. And to his credit I have never once seen or heard a single soul ever having to ask him to redo any of his work, much less complain about its quality. I have always tried to work towards the same standards, even though my own skills might not be equal to his.

When my Grandmother suffered a stroke my Grandfather stopped working to try and care for her. My Mother, a nurse herself, did likewise and they moved in with us. Without any real thoughts or complaints my Brother and I offered up our bedroom. We basically lived in a corner of our living room for a time, helping out in any way that we could. Sadly, during my freshman year of high school my Grandmother passed away. She did so with all of us by her side and as I watched on with her husband always there. He never once shirked from his duty, never once acted anything other than dignified and shouldered every burden without complaint or regret.

He never returned to work. Everyone thought that he might simply give up and soon join his wife – but much as he had always advised he never gave up. Once he returned to his home it was a daily task of mine to deliver a meal to him. It was a highlight to my day as I would sit with him for a stretch and just talk about anything he wanted to. Although he never was able to take me under his wing and teach me even a portion of the carpenter’s trade as I had often dreamed he always had the time to give me advice on how to build or fix something. He would even encourage me to borrow various tools of his to do so.

But even though he never was able to teach me how to be a carpenter like him he taught me something far more precious. He showed me how to be a man. He educated me in dignity and honor – even when wearing simple working clothes. From him I learned to never flinch from a smashed thumb, a stabbing splinter or a sore back if there was a job to finish. Even in the face of so much sadness at the loss of a loved one he taught me to hold my head high and show them the respect they deserved.

In summary, I have found that I may have said it best when I dedicated my book ‘Metal In The Moonlight’ to him;

Dedicated to my beloved Grandfather; a more honest, honorable and simply strong character of a man I have never known. May we all be blessed to have such a handy hammer in our lives to help build us into a better man or woman.

I am deeply honored, blessed and humbled to have ever had such a teacher and example in my life. To all who knew him or have been touched by his life I can only pray they value his influence in their life as I do. He deserves to be remembered and respected – even if he would never ask for any such attention.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Day Wil Wheaton High-Fived My Son.

My son, Bryn, is 7 years old. He suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder. He takes medication, see's a therapist and is even in a special program to provide him with help learning to adjust and manage everything daily life throws his way. Bryn's hero is a well known geek and all-around respected figure; Wil Wheaton.

Yeah. He's more than kind of a big deal to Bryn. For my son he is more than just some celebrity 'cool guy', to him he is someone he can aspire to be like. My wife and I have kicked around the idea of reaching out to Mr. Wheaton ( I know, it sounds odd to refer to him in such a manner ) but often just wasn't really sure if we should or even if we could. For whatever reason this morning it just seemed right, like it was more than just a novel idea mentioned from time to time.

So this morning I fired off the following email with the subject 'High Praise From A Miniature Mouth':

Dear Mr. Wheaton,
I am writing to you not on my own behalf, but on the behalf of my seven year old son. His name is Bryn and, well, to be blunt he looks up to you so very much. He suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which at times can prompt him to have panic attacks as well as bouts of depression. You should see his face light up anytime he sees you talking about some game, on a T.V. Show or just basically being you. Don't even get me started on what happens when we mention the infamous "Booty Mine" song. When his doctor mentioned medication he remarked about how he didn't mind it or having to go for therapy if it helped him because that is what Wil Wheaton does. When his therapist made mention of how therapy dogs can be of help he again rationalized that Wil Wheaton has dogs too and that they seem to help him. Now he has a 4 month old German shepherd/lab mix puppy that a Army Veteran with ptsd had to give up due to moving.
My point is, that you my dear sir are an inspiration and role model to my son and to me as a father. I've been a geek and a gamer all my life and had my own struggles as well. Anytime Bryn is down, or anxious about something all I know I have to do is mention the "Booty Mine" or your name and he smiles. Of all the awards, accolades and trophies that anyone could offer you the only one that I can give you is my gratitude and the knowledge that you have made a huge impact on someone so small. Someone who like you struggles everyday. Someone, who because of you knows that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Thank You.
Matthew C. Gill

We never expected in a million years to get any reply. To us we just hoped that the message might inform Mr. Wheaton of the powerful impact he has on others, even little ones. We were both shocked and somewhat overjoyed to recieve the following response a couple of hours later.

Hi Matthew,

Please excuse any misspellings in this email, I have something in both
of my eyes.

If you would, please give Bryn a high five for me, and tell him I said
that I want him to be kind, be honest, be honorable, work hard, and
always be awesome.

Thank you for sharing this with me. I struggle to various degrees every
day, and you've restored all of my HP and mana today.

All the best,


Needless to say, this afternoon I will have a young man who just might explode. I cannot wait to tell him and provide the High-Five via proxy that might never be forgotten.

Great men do exist and they deserve being made aware of it from time to time. Thank you Mr. Wheaton.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What I’ve Been Doing Wrong.

What I’ve Been Doing Wrong.

While revising my most recent story I have discovered no shortage of short-comings to be addressed. But even once I set about writing entire new sections I found things far from ideal. So I did the one thing that may come hard for some writers; I took a long hard look at my work and asked myself what I’d been doing wrong.

Now, initially that may sound relatively easy. The problem about tackling such a task though is that to some people there are no flaws in their work. For some writers there may be essentially a big blind spot when it comes to critiquing themselves. And, let’s face it; you may be your harshest critic but if you can’t see what is wrong you’ll never see what you can fix.

What follows is going to be a list of things that I have been able to point out about my own work. They are all applicable to other peoples work as well so take what valuable advice there is to be had from them and apply it to your own if it helps. Even if you don’t know how to address them, just knowing what they are can lead you to learning more about how to improve your writing.

  • Using I: There are more ways to deliver details or use internal monologue. ‘I’ do not have to place everything into the ‘I’ bucket. Be smarter than that! Look for other ways to say what is being said. Ask yourself; isn’t there a better way to say it?
  • Talk Is Cheap: If everything is being spelled out by internal dialogue then the reader is going to feel led about like a child. Show them! If a sword is sharp don’t spend all day explaining it – show it slicing through something that demonstrates that fact. Don’t waste your words waxing philosophical or repetitively rehashing the same plot points over and over either. Say it, show it then get out and move on. Keep the action in motion – because it isn’t called action by being still.
  • Long Winded Means Little: If I’m making every sentence push the boundaries of run-ons then I’m just creating clutter. Seriously! People don’t want to read redundantly over-burdened paragraphs. Get to a point as efficiently as possible. Make it faster, make it fun. Does it need all those adjectives? Can it be said in fewer words? If so, then do it!
  • Your Protagonist Is The Center Of The Story, But Not The Universe: Even in a first person narrative where the reader is in on a form of literary ride-along the key truth is that you cannot shoulder everything on that. What this amounts to is that you shouldn’t show and tell it all from them alone. Let others speak, show things in the surroundings, and let the reader put the pieces together. To ignore these things is to court death via the ‘everything is ‘I’ issued.’ Never, EVER, allow yourself to stumble into that pitfall.
  • Describe What Is Necessary, Don’t Over Detail What Isn’t: Should you establish the environment? By all means lay that layout out for your reader! But for heaven’s sake don’t waste details on common things like the color of a candle’s wax when you haven’t even named a prominent side character. If it is worth knowing then name it, detail it and don’t waste those words. You don’t have to provide every element about each person or piece of the environment.
  • Clues Are Key: If you’re trying to weave a work with any measure of mystery then you have to keep those keys in mind. You cannot do them lip service or litter them about using little more than the protagonist’s say so. That is just sloppy and a reader will notice it. Take your time, back up and incorporate those clues. Do not make your protagonist the only source.
  •  Being Vague Is Bad, Unless It’s Good: The point being that it is okay to be vague or general if it is appropriate. When it becomes a problem is when you resort to relating everything in terms of ‘something’ this and ‘something’ that. If you are talking about something then say what it is. You are not creating any mystery by being vague. It is okay for the protagonist to not know everything, but that is no excuse to be bland about it.
  • Tone And Voice: The personality may be there, the main character could be sarcastic, witty or charming but if you don’t use it they can’t shine. You have to leverage that and make it work for them. If they are deep and pensive then give them moments to showcase that. But temper those times with caution lest the story stall into a lengthy series of philosophical prose. Find the hero of the story’s voice, find their strengths and play to them but don’t use them exclusively. A strong swordsman is exciting in a fight but if all they can do is fight then they aren’t much fun outside of one. Consider that and by all means do not devolve into the reprehensible realm of the main character is the master of all things. Not only is it cheap, it’s lazy and will cost you any chance at interest.
  • Narrative Nature: Make the choice before you begin and stick with it. If you are going to write in a set form like that of first person narrative then decide on if it is in the moment, looking back or some other variation thereof. Don’t jump around. Pick one and stand firm to it. But consider it well before you start. Think of how you will handle what your narrator will say and relate. You may need times to pause and break up monotony or it may be easier to get lost in the heat of the moment feel. Whatever you’re going for – go for it. Just think it through first.
  • Take Off The Training Wheels: You will discover go to phrases, words and metaphors in your story as you write it. Despite the reflex to lean on them you should try to avoid it. It is a crutch that can cripple. A reader will only find it cute to see a witty ‘like a hot knife through butter’ only so many times. Don’t abuse their intelligence by thinking they’ll not notice some of the same tropes and tricks being shuffled or recycled around.
  • Review Is Okay But Don’t Hammer Over Things Relentlessly: As the plot progresses it makes sense for the hero to review things and consider what to make of them. This can be done internally but shouldn’t be the primary or the sole means for this. Let them bounce ideas off of others or debate things. But in the end don’t turn it into a logic loop. Once the reader knows what is going on you shouldn’t slam them with wave after wave of blunt reminders. If a victim died from an unknown cause don’t keep brow beating them by pointing it out.
  • Clever, Clear, But In Context: Watch your characters comments and try to keep them within context. Ask yourself why it matters and what they are speaking about. If they mention how something isn’t going to be simple then make sure you put it into the right context. Why will it be difficult? What does it matter if it is? Why mention it at all? Don’t just sling out commentary for its own sake.
  • Trim Those Tags: Not ever spoken piece of dialogue requires some form of accentuation such as ‘said in astonishment,’ etc. Even if it did, trying to put in emotion or point it out could be better done by showing it. If a character is nervous then let them stutter or drop something to establish that rather then just saying so.
  • Start At The Starting Line, Not Before: Just like a race it is cheating to take those initial strides before the race actually is being run. Start things off at the beginning, just before things change or right as the ball gets rolling. You don’t have to begin three months ago or thirteen years prior. Back-story can be filled in later or as you go when it becomes relevant.
  • Jab, Don’t Gab: This goes back to the idea of getting in and getting out. If paragraphs are droning on and on to take up large portions you need to break things up. Rapid fire those jabs, land that literary punch and then position to follow up. Keep the reader on their toes and keep the action moving.
  • Dumpshock: Sometimes there is valuable information to relay to the reader; research to be passed on and the like. Did you know that a thicker blade is heavier, more likely to tire an arm out faster and less likely to be turned aside/snapped? Does that even have any bearing at all on the scene in the story? If so then by all means highlight it. But if not, then let it go. The reader isn’t in it for a lecture on the mechanics of melee combat. Just because you’re informed, interested or experienced about a topic doesn’t mean it will impress them by flinging facts. Limit the dump truck data and filter it down to essential details only. The reader will appreciate the reduced clutter and confusion.
  • Convenient Plot Isn’t Convenient: If the hero is handed the key puzzle piece at the perfect moment to save the day nobody really wins. Some acts of serendipity can be expected, even understandable. However outright convenient plot points simply do not work. If the story hinges on the bad guy stumbling and accidentally shooting themselves in the foot it is time to rethink things. Motive will go a long way – use it to form a foundation but watch out for all things involving coincidence. The characters must be responsible for any resolution otherwise why else are they in the story?
  • Cut Those ‘To Be’s’ Off At The Pass: Words like am, are, is, was, were, be, become and became can distance the audience from the action, so avoid them. Here are some examples – Instead of saying will be different try will differ. Instead of saying it is interesting to me use it interests me.
  • Tear It To Pieces: Dismantle, dissect, analyze and evaluate. Carpenters and mechanics deconstruct in order to see how to build. Artists and architects scrutinize and study in order to shape. Smash your story to bits, pick up the pieces and improve it. See what makes it work and what doesn’t. There is always more to learn and room to improve.
  • Ground Rules Are Your Gravity: Define and establish what can and cannot be done by your characters. Hold those tenets true and keep them as an anchor. If the hero can see through a lie one minute then you can’t allow him to fall for a villain’s manipulative subterfuge by lying the next. Explain why a character can do what they do and allow them limits. Don’t give them catch all talents – even superman can’t see through lead, is crippled by kryptonite and is a hopelessly na├»ve Samaritan. Create the world first then set the story inside of it. Use the setting/background to develop the characters. Throw in things that fit for a reason. There must be a reason the story takes place and the characters happen (or happen to be) there. Make it an integral part, it should be a character all its own.

Just some things I found while trying to see what all I was doing wrong in my own story. Maybe they will help you in your own work.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Reality Of Ridiculous.

The Reality of Ridiculous.

Have you ever felt ridiculous? Ever had someone point out that you looked ridiculous? Perhaps you have, yourself told someone else that an idea they proposed was ‘simply ridiculous?’

We’ve all heard the word in use in our daily lives at some point or another. Everyone on the planet by virtue of living among our fellow examples of humanity and/or members of society has experienced feeling or being made to feel ridiculous. Many of us have less than favorable memories stashed away in our mental vaults that we’d rather pretend didn’t exist that involve that very word as a center piece.

What does the word even mean though? If you look it up in a dictionary it might say something like: ‘deserving or inviting derision or mockery; absurd.’ I suppose on a technical level that is an appropriate explanation of the term itself. But, to me, the real true meaning of it is something a little different. In my opinion ridiculous is more along the lines of meaning any identifiable or noticeable difference perceived as being separate from conforming to the greater general majority.

I’ve had more than my share of first hand experiences with the word ridiculous over the course of my life. I won’t lie about it, for a long time I let people make me feel ridiculous on a regular basis. For example as a child I had a pair of denim overalls the spitting image of some my father wore every day to work. I would put them on and help him with things around the house/yard/garden. For me I took pride in my overalls, they made me feel good about myself.

Then one day I wore them to school oblivious to how other kids may perceive them or react. I quickly discovered that I had just painted myself as a prime target for ridicule. Regardless of the fact that our school was a small rural district among a collective of small rural districts that made up – you guessed it; a rural county. The majority of students all had grown up on a farm, around a farm or completely immersed in farm culture. But that didn’t matter; I was the one kid who showed up one day wearing something completely different than anything else the other kids were wearing. So they made me feel ridiculous, and I in my ignorance let them.

Years later on in my education, somewhere near the end of elementary and perhaps the early days of junior high I recall attending my first school dance. It didn’t leave me with a lasting desire to make a long tradition of repeating. Once more I was oblivious with regard to my attire and showed up in dress pants, shirt, complete with tie and vest. My first clue was when my cousin arrived at my house in infinitely more casual clothes.

When we reached the dance itself I found myself instantly engulfed in ridicule and feeling the full brunt of what that can impart onto you. To make matters worse I had no concept of how to dance or any comfortable facsimile thereof. Some friends of mine convinced me of trying to make use of some physical comedy gags I had improvised like waddling in place like a penguin and calling it ‘penguin dancing’ as well as sticking one foot spaced far in front of the other almost in a straight line and rocking back and forth like a rocking horse.

Ever heard the phrase most often used to try and console someone after they have reached new heights of ridiculous; they’re laughing with you instead of at you? I heard that one a lot – almost in a chorus stereo format style even. You can honestly tell a difference even as a kid between good spirited humor and people making a mockery of you. The entire rest of the night I spent being a repository for people’s pity or more pointed proclamations of being ridiculous.

As I grew up I eventually discovered the truth of the matter; that feeling ridiculous is something that solely rests with you. Some other kid once tried to mock me by pointing out that my T-shirt didn’t match a flannel shirt I was wearing over it. In fact, they (as I recall) tried to claim that I had to be color blind. Truthfully, I am not color-blind at all but I do happily concede to being color-stupid. I can tell one color apart from another without much trouble, but when it comes to instinctively knowing what two colors compliment and what ones clash I am woefully ignorant. Which I must point out doesn’t really matter much to me.

In retaliation and armed with my burgeoning understanding I started making it a point to wear mismatched color schemes of the same sort – often resorting to the most obvious pairings I had available. I would put on a bright blue shirt and then throw on a vibrant red flannel with it. In the face of any attempt to make me feel ridiculous I would simply smile and reply with comments along the lines of ‘I like how I look,’ or ‘what does it matter if I don’t match,’ etc.

Over the years as I grew up I found more and more that no body could make me feel ridiculous unless I allowed them to. I also started to see more and more the unmistakable association between what everyone else expected of you based on conformity and those they directed ridicule towards. Even as an adult it continued – and I don’t foresee it is something that will ever completely vanish from society.

That doesn’t mean that we should keep propagating it. That doesn’t mean we need to live in ignorance of how we allow it to affect us. It is our choice alone to permit it to make us feel bad or deny it any power over us.

I worked a job at local manufacturing plant for years holding a respectable job operating machines that were responsible for providing every other aspect of the production process with the raw materials they needed to build about everything they made. It wasn’t easy, it was long hours working from just before midnight to just after noon constantly moving and trying to pay attention to hundreds of moving strands of fiberglass and dozens on spools of woven fiberglass matte cloth as it was being pulled into a heated metal die, coated in thick sticky resin and coming out as a solid beam on the opposite end. It didn’t take much to have the process come to a crashing halt leaving some horrible messes on par with a gooey Gordian knot still heated to triple digits and an entire plant of other people depending on the flow of the materials we made to enable them to keep working.

The very first day I showed up for that job, I did so wearing a comfortable pair of old overalls. Worked in them every night too and didn’t give a hoot what anyone else thought or said on the matter. Although it is a little difficult to make a grown man feel ridiculous no matter what he is wearing if you watch him run over to a river of moving fiberglass mattes and strands of fiberglass string to start sewing thing together while it is still moving to keep it from crashing.

Point of the matter is that if you spend your days letting everyone make you feel ridiculous then you’ll never give yourself the time to show those same people that it doesn’t matter if you don’t dress the same or act the same. Just be yourself, be comfortable with who you are and don’t ever feel guilty about finding out who that person is (or is going to be). You can even be ridiculous if you want to be – but never let anyone make you feel that way.

Because if you ever stop and take the time to sound that word out it tells you all you need to know about anyone who tries to make you think you are being it

Re – [explicative deleted] – you – us; they’re trying to reinforce the difference between you and the rest of ‘us.’ And in the process all they are reinforcing is that they are the omitted component of that word themselves. Why don’t we all make an honest attempt to pay a little less attention to what others are saying is ridiculous and a little more on who we are as individuals. There is plenty more value in people that we can prize as precious without pointing out where we think they don’t fit in.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Hound Hunting - Chapter 29.

I woke up in a comfortable fluffy bed with fresh sheets that smelled of soft delicate things like flowers and sunshine. There was the faint aroma of herbs everywhere as well and only slowly did it occur to me that the combination wasn’t altogether foreign at all. I was in one of the recovery rooms that made up healer’s hall. More precisely the section set aside for those just a step below what was reserved for the serious cases sent to the infirmary.

I suppose there should be some satisfaction to be found there – but there was little. It didn’t really feel right for me to be the one waking up here. At some point maybe I could come to terms with what Wynna had done. Maybe someday I could feel justified in stopping her. But they day wasn’t today and might not come anytime soon. It was something I would have to live with.

Even a blunted blade is still a blade. Just like the fact that even a SpellHound no longer sworn to service and bound to the throne can’t deny that it is his duty to make use of his birthright for the good of others. When you can see the dangers others cannot it puts you in a position to protect against it that are denied to everyone else. I guess I’d just have to make sure I billed better from now on.

Glitch was curled up in an awkward sideways slump that looked completely uncomfortable for the chair holding him beside my bed. All my things had been sorted and stowed in a small cabinet next to me. Relief rushed over me as I looked through it to discover everything in order. My sword was leaning against it, my dagger tucked along with it on my belt. Even my money was still safe and sound inside its pouch with my pants.

My pants were in there. This meant that… I looked under the sheets and groaned. Someone had removed my pants at some point. It was to be expected I suppose, and even though it wasn’t my first stay in a similar setting it was never very appealing to your dignity to wake up without your pants. Especially if you weren’t entirely certain of whom it was who removed them.

While I was lamenting the loss of my pride, or any portion thereof a familiar face sauntered into the room. Stane didn’t bother with any formalities like knocking or announcing himself before entering. But then again I hadn’t really either before I showed up to see him. I guess that made us even in the decorum department.

“They say you took down Wynna Snowsong single-handedly,” he stated sadly. “Can’t say I did it alone Stane,” I had to confess. “I did have some help from my hired consultant.” It still felt surreal talking about Wynna in such a way. I thought I owed it to her, and to Stane to say something.

“I don’t feel good about what happened, far from it in fact. Never thought I would end up on the other end of another SpellHound in a serious fight. But Wynna wasn’t right Stane, there was barely anything left of her when she came at me. She was stealing so much raw power from every relic she could get her hands on and had already used so much to hurt people.

She was determined to keep doing it too. Was about to try and breech the gate and then who knows how much more mischief she would have managed once inside.” Tears started to well up and my eyes were too wet to contain them. They fell down along my face without resistance and even Stane sniffled quietly as well.

“They’re trying to piece everything together right now,” Stane said after we both took a few minutes to politely wipe any wetness away without mentioning it. “The unofficial word is that after the accident Wynna had accidentally come into contact with a secret stash inside Emberhelm that was being relocated to keep it secure. Without knowing what it was or what was going on she must have taken action against them and found her self holding another object similar to what had been used on us. They believe the temptation was too much for her and she got greedy. From there this whole mess just snowballed until she snapped. It could have happened to any one of us.”

“No,” I objected with ample agitation. “Not just anyone of us. Trust me on that one; Wynna made the call to collect those things. She also made the choice to do what she did.” That promise of power was tempting to be sure, but on the most basic level it all came down to what was right and what was wrong. The abuse of arcane power of that magnitude was beyond bad. There was always a choice – and Wynna had simply made the wrong one.

“How many casualties are there,” I asked. I needed to know just how much damage Wynna had dealt before the end. But I guess I also was curious about the number of hidden hoards she had managed to hunt down. Were there still more of them out there being guarded in secret? Or had she wiped all the ones warding them out and reduced those treasures to trash?

“No exact figures yet but rough estimates are only a handful has been slain in the pursuit of her plot not counting those she caught in combat outside the gate. We were fortunate you got wind of her scent in time to intercept her.”

“I am an Interceptor, after all,” I proclaimed and the two of us shared a smile. After that Stane bid me farewell and went on his way. I took advantage of his absence and decided to get some more rest myself.

In the days that followed I was eventually released from my room and allowed to leave. Aethen made good on his word and rewarded me with restoring my reputation – on paper anyway and by granting me by way of a boon a measure of his influence. At face value it didn’t seem like much but when you considered I could call on it in times of trouble to leverage his good will in my favor I figured it was quite valuable indeed. It wouldn’t last forever if I abused it and I doubt even holding any degree of debt owed by him would protect me if I did something monumentally stupid but it was good to have a friend in high places.

The look on Garuff’s face was priceless too when I stuffed a slab of pure silver under his nose with the Wyatt crest and told him what he could do with his rent from now on. In fact, I advised him to consider his wealth and take up another trade instead. The life of a landlord wasn’t nearly as profitable if he didn’t treat his paying patrons with some respect. That is unless he wanted to cost himself more than coins coming in. He took my advice and agreed to invest his interests elsewhere.

I even squared my deal with Glitch too. Well, I paid him like I promised that is. He insisted on maintaining our partnership though. By working with me I figure he saw a shot at securing the freedom of his family. And I, for one, couldn’t blame him. Seeing as how I had also agreed to aid in the endeavor I figured it was a fair assessment.

What I wasn’t prepared for was having him move in with me. In the future I decided it best to watch how much I pay a gremlin. You get a little generous and the next thing you know you have a roommate. I needed to find another client and a bigger place before long.

You can’t win them all, I guess. Not if you have the luck of a hound.